H Little Red Cap

A little recap on 'Little Red Cap' *

By Carol Ann Duffy

Use this page to find supportive information and resources for this poem. Mr Yule has been basing his own notes to class on the Study Notes 1, 2 and 3 below. You will find a lot of cross over information and duplication but it's useful to see how others see the poem.

‘Little Red Cap’

By Carol Ann Duffy

Critical Essay Writing



In LRC CAD uses the familiar fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood to tell  her autobiographical story of ten years in her life when she was married to the poet Adrian Henry. Like LRRH she feels that in those years she was ‘lost in the woods’ and at risk to a dominant male, ‘the wolf’. However unlike LRRH she doesn’t need a heroic male to rescue her, she takes on the role of the ‘woodcutter’ and rescues herself: “out of the woods I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.”


Central concern(s) of the text


  • the ‘journey’ of life, its risks and successes
  • feministic message – she is a ‘little girl’ when she meets the wolf, but she is a strong independent woman with her own message at the end
  • the rites of passage between childhood and adulthood – growing up
  • confessional, reflecting poetry: as an adult you may think differently about an experience than you did as a child


First line:

            “At childhood’s end ….” Reveals the time and the setting. It carries with it the fairy tale suggestion of “In a land far, far away …”

Last line:

            “Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone


            - the dramatic conclusion of the story, she is no longer in a dark or dangerous place, she is carrying symbols of victory and perhaps of her own poems, she is alone – independent of the man, a successful poet in her own right.


Key techniques


  • subverting the familiar fairytale in order to tell her own story and experience (dramatic monologue)
  • symbolism (strong imagery)
  • setting (the wolf’s lair)
  • structure (turning points and sentence structure)
  • word choice



  • Symbols (imagery)




Suggests / Represents

Allotments kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men

As a child she recognised men’s dominance over women – the word choice ‘mistresses’ shows her disapproval

The edge of the woods

Symbolises the end of childhood and the beginning of the journey just as this is a place where it is easy to be ‘lost’ and to find ‘danger’ so too CAD’s experience begins at this point.

A paperback in his hairy paw

Symbolises it is the male who is speaking the words - successful poets are generally men

Red wine staining his bearded jaw

Like the wolf in the fairytale Henry has had previous victims. Word choice “bearded” reinforces the idea that successful poets are men

I lost both shoes … but got there.

The shoes are symbolic of her virginity and her innocence. Enjambement is used to draw attention to this and also to show it was worth it as she got herself to where she wanted to be.

I crept to the back of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, aglow with books

Word choice “crimson” suggests treasure and shows us what CAD was looking for – access to the wolf’s treasure trove of books, words and poetic techniques.


  • structure



It was there I first clapped eyes on the wolf

First turning point moment. It was at the end of her childhood and the beginning of her adulthood that she first felt herself drawn to the poet.

In the interval I made quite sure he saw me.

Second turning point. This moment foreshadows her growing control over the poet and their relationship. Unlike LRRH, CAD is no ‘victim’ – she is a willing participant.

My first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.

Series of short sentences draws attention to her virginity and innocence but also her purpose in entering into the relationship: she wanted the poet’s words and to become like him.

For what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?

This question is used to show that CAD admits to her part in all of this – she was drawn to the wolf through her own desire.

But then I was young …

Final turning point – here CAD reflects back as an adult and shares with her readers her realisation that …

A greying wolf howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out …

The repetition suggests that everything is repeating itself. This shows that CAD feels she is now in a cycle and getting bored. So …

I took an axe …

This is repeated three times to emphasise that she is the one who rescues herself and ‘kills’ the wolf.


  • setting



The wolf would lead me deep into the woods

This shows that the wolf’s lair is in the most dangerous place – a long way away from an innocent childhood

Away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place

This suggests the danger of the setting – and the risks which were ahead

Wolf’s lair, better beware

The use of alliteration and rhyme suggests the kind of advice that adults give to children to be careful, this shows that CAD had been warned not to go there (like LRRH in the fairytale) but she is not tricked, it’s her choice to go there

I crept to the back of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, aglow with books

Word choice “crimson” suggests treasure and shows us what CAD was looking for – access to the wolf’s treasure trove of books, words and poetic techniques.



- Word Choice (suggests … shows …)




Suggests someone who is childlike, innocent and hungry. This shows CAD’s innocence at the start of the relationship but also that she wanted, and planned, to get something out of it – her hunger was for words and poetry.

I crawled in his wake

Word choice “crawled” suggests that when they first started together CAD was babylike – she will pick herself up as the relationship continues. Word choice “wake” suggests that at this stage it was him who was making waves, this shows that she had yet to make an impact of her own.

I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur

Word choice “thrashing” suggests the relationship was built on sex and lust and this shows that CAD was not in a loving relationship

One chop, scrotum to throat

This shows her decisive action, CAD no longer needs the wolf for sex suggested by “scrotum” or for poetry suggested by “throat

I stitched him up

Suggests that CAD took the final actions to kill the wolf. This shows her control over the situation and suggests she performed and planned her own heroic rescue

* Credit goes to Moran Cree for coming up with the title for this page.

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